The tale of two Durhams can be summed up at a fork in the road just south of downtown. Hang left onto Enterprise Street and enter the troubled, impoverished St. Theresa's neighborhood. Or stay right on Overhill Terrace and ease into leafy Forest Hills, where $1 million homes are the rule, not the exception.
Revitalizing neglected neighborhoods, continuing the downtown renewal, keeping a handle on the city's crime problem, strengthening environmental regulations, embracing the regional transit plan are among the challenges facing Durham's elected officials.
WARD I covers roughly the north and north-central neighborhoods. We endorse two-term City Councilwoman CORA COLE-MCFADDEN, whose concern for the environment and focus on crime reduction has earned her a third term.
She supports infill development, reduction of impervious surface, such as asphalt and concrete, and environmentally sustainable measures in city buildings, including water conservation and energy efficiency. She also is strong on social issues, stating in her questionnaire that "affordable housing and health care are basic rights." She also supports the half-cent transit tax, which excludes food, medicine, utilities and housing, "making it less regressive."
Cole-McFadden touts the economic development of the northeast-central neighborhoods, including $600,000 in federal grants to redevelop formerly polluted areas. However, we hope she uses her position on the Auditing Services Oversight Committee to monitor how that money is being spent. Considering the city has received nearly half a million dollars in funding, little has been accomplished in cleaning up and redeveloping those properties.
We respect the ambition and enthusiasm of Democrat Donald A. Hughes, who turns 22 next month. However, Hughes' time has not arrived. He spent the last several years living in Greensboro, where he served as president and vice president of the Student Government Association at UNC-G.
His questionnaire shows a broad grasp of the issues—and he's on the right side of most of them—but some of his specific answers focused on areas outside of City Council's purview, including his support for the public option in health care reform (applaudable, but a national issue). However, on local concerns, such as the proposed half-cent sales tax increase for mass transit, several of his answers were vague and dealt largely with cosmetics of solving Durham's problems. He received Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People's endorsement.
John Tarantino, secretary of the Durham County Republican Party, didn't fill out a questionnaire.
WARD II encompasses much of the eastern and south-central parts of the city and is represented by incumbent Howard Clement, who has been on Durham City Council for 25 years. During that time, he has defended the underprivileged.
However, Clement no longer appears to have the same fire for the office. His answers to our questionnaire were clearly phoned in: "One of the focus areas for economic redevelopment is northeast-central Durham. How do you propose redeveloping that area and through what measures?" Answer: "Continue with the progress being achieved in that area."
While there are some incremental positive steps being made in that part of town, it remains strikingly depressed, economically and socially.
Clement occasionally takes controversial stands, advocating for city-county consolidation and supporting an amendment to the billboard ordinance, he says "to allow for public safety considerations." On the billboard issue, we disagree.
Unlike challenger Darius Little, who played the age card in presumptuously calling on Clement to step down and endorse him, we don't think Clement's lack of enthusiasm is due to his years on this earth. (Durham County Commissioner Becky Heron is in her 80s. She's tireless, engaged and outspoken.)
Clement will probably win. Your vote for him is not a vote wasted. He received the endorsement of the progressive People's Alliance. However, in withholding our endorsement, the Indy is signaling to Clement that he should dig deep and rekindle the fire that has inspired him to remain in office for a quarter-century.
Speaking of Little, yes, he has felony convictions for bad checks. Yes, he's done his time and paid his debt to society, but considering City Council members have to make budgetary decisions, we can't endorse someone who has shown such poor financial judgment. Little, a business consultant, deserves to move on with his life. But he doesn't deserve to be on City Council.
Like a lot of Libertarians, Matt Drew takes progressive positions on several social issues, and his questionnaire initially perked the Indy's ears. He criticized Durham for how it dealt with its water resources, including its tardiness in implementing water restrictions during the 2007 drought. But then he lost us on the fiscal side, stating he would not have accepted the federal stimulus money and would oppose increased funding for transit.
Investment analyst and end-time preacher (quite a combination) Sylvester Williams had a thoughtful questionnaire. He is unaffiliated. His focus is on neighborhoods and small businesses, particularly on Durham's east side. He has served on the Mayor's Advisory Board on Gang Violence and the Ad Hoc Committee for the East End Connector. However, his political experience on meat-and-potatoes issues like planning and zoning is limited. And when Durham City Council voted, albeit symbolically, for a resolution supporting same-sex marriage, Williams spoke out against it. Since Durham has extended domestic partner benefits to its city employees, it's unclear how Williams would handle these social issues if elected.
Sandra Howell didn't fill out a questionnaire.